Dear Dr. Fox:

My 7-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback died of liver cancer. Surely she was too young to die so soon. She was fed top-quality dog food and was on regular heartworm (Interceptor) and flea-control (Program) medicine every month. What do you think could have caused the cancer?

G.L., Washington

Many factors are involved in the development of various kinds of cancer, notably genetic susceptibility, stress, diet, prior infection and exposure to toxins in the environment and in food. (More toxic metals are allegedly present in commercial pet foods than in home-prepared diets.)

I am especially concerned that many veterinarians are advising monthly "preventive" flea control drugs for dogs and cats who could be at risk from long-term treatment, especially if their immune systems are already compromised.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Would you please address the topic of summer eczema, also known as itchy dry skin?

For the last three years my dog has had this. The first vet I took her to said it was fleas, and my dog was treated for this, but it didn't do any good. The next vet said the fleas were under the skin and treated my dog for that, but the itching didn't stop.

I was looking in my "Sergeant's Dog Book" and saw an article on summer eczema. I think this may be the problem, not fleas.

G.C., Mason, Mich.

"Summer eczema" is a generic term for seasonal dermatitis in dogs. It is often misdiagnosed as being caused by fleas, hence the widespread but hazardous misapplication of spot-on flea drops, dips and pills.

Many dogs develop itchy skin and red eruptions -- often with secondary bacterial infections -- as a result of being allergic to various flowers, grass and tree pollen. Antihistamine medication (and steroids in severe cases) should be given. Flea medicines might make such pollen allergy problems worse by disrupting the dogs' immune systems.

Pollen-allergy eczema can also be misdiagnosed as mange (caused by skin-burrowing mites), which a routine skin-scraping may not reveal. So a careful diagnosis is called for -- not more flea-killing poisons!

Dear Dr. Fox:

Since your column deals with all kinds of animal issues, perhaps you can help me with a deer problem.

I have had a new house built close to federal parkland, and at night deer came into my garden and ruined it. I don't want to put up a fence because I like the open, natural landscaping. What is your solution to keeping deer away from my property?

J.K., Washington

Whitetail deer, as well as other wildlife like raccoons, opossums, moles and squirrels, who will also dig up your garden, were here before you. You have invaded their domain. How many trees and how much natural cover did you destroy to put up a new home and make a garden?

If you really like open, natural landscaping, why not make your "garden" a wildlife haven with plants that attract butterflies and provide food and shelter for birds and other animals? Dig a small pond and put up a salt lick for the deer.

It is ironic that people like to live close to nature, but then wage war against wildlife with poison bait, fences, electrified wires, bright lights, electronic bug-zappers, pesticides and even live traps.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a female cat, Ginger, who is three years old. She's been spayed and de-clawed. She had a trachea infection that was treated and cleared up.

I have a question. For a couple of weeks, when we would pet or touch her body, it would crackle and sound like Rice Krispies. Why is this so?

C.W., Virginia Beach

Ginger's fur crackles because when you make contact with her there is a discharge of static electricity. This is very common with indoor animals on nylon carpets and other synthetic surfaces, especially in a dry, hot home during winter months.

Metal water and food bowls can shock animals because of this electrical phenomenon, which can result in food and water aversion. Static electricity can also make it very difficult to groom an animal. Wiping them first with a moist sponge can help reduce this problem.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a question that I have never seen addressed. Why is it that fish and pork are never in dog foods? I have asked other people and no one has an answer. Many of us await your response.

G.M., NorfolkThe labeling of commercial pet foods is not fully informative. Ingredients like "meat meal" and "meat byproducts" could well include various parts of pigs. Fish is not used in most brands of dog food, to my knowledge, but is included in some specially formulated diets for dogs who have a hypersensitivity to beef, poultry and other sources of animal protein.

Write to Dr. Michael Fox in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

(c) 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.